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Air Brake, employees agree on a new contract

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After holding off a possible strike two weeks ago, New York Air Brake management and the machinists’ union agreed Saturday to a new tentative labor contract.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 761, which represents 150 employees at the Watertown manufacturer, ratified the three-year contract Saturday afternoon after company and union representatives negotiated a deal late Friday.

Details of the terms of the contact and the results of the union vote were not released Saturday.

Air Brake President Michael J. Hawthorne said after the vote that the contract still must be finalized. “We’ll have it all in place within about two weeks,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the union and Air Brake, which manufactures heavy-haul freight products, agreed to continue negotiations a day after the rank and file rejected the company’s proposed contract calling for wage and benefit cuts and threatened a strike. Since then, the two sides met for four “extensive negotiating sessions” that each lasted more than eight hours, Mr. Hawthorne said.

“I give the union credit for working through negotiations,” he said, adding that he appreciated employees for their “high professionalism” while the agreement was worked out during the past two weeks.

Peter B. Cooney, business representative for Local 761, could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

Air Brake had proposed to cut union members’ pay by from 59 cents to as much as $4.15 an hour, depending on job classification. The company also proposed an incentive plan, based on performance, in exchange for those cuts. The average union wage at Air Brake is $20.88, the union had said.

Besides the wage cuts, the union opposed provisions ending the union’s pension plan, replacing it with a 401(k); scrapping seniority protections, and granting the company authority to hire nonunion workers. The latter provision would enable the company to hire part-time workers with no health benefits.

The new contract will guarantee 50 jobs that will be transferred from the company’s plant in Kingston, Ontario, which had been announced in February, Mr. Hawthorne said. It also could bring new products to the Watertown facility that could result in additional jobs, he said.

The company is closing its Knorr Brake Ltd. facility and moving the 50 jobs to manufacture locomotive braking products to its Watertown headquarters.

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